Debates During COVID-19: Why Bother?

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Political debates are the foundation of a healthy political system in any free society. In many nations, challengers are refused a voice, or even arrested, so that incumbents can retain power. America has a long tradition of allowing rigorous debates, providing the voting public with a chance to get to know the candidates and the issues.

Vermont’s Governor Phil Scott, a Republican in name but a Progressive by behavior, is now employing COVID-19 to refuse to debate his Republican challenger (yours truly). Because I knew the Governor would seek to avoid discussing the issues (or his record), I sent him a demand weeks ago insisting on debates. But Phil doesn’t want to discuss issues -- he just wants to remain Governor without the politics.

But this is a betrayal, yet again by this Governor, of democratic traditions and traditional values. At first the Governor said he was running for reelection but not campaigning, which (translated) means he wants to run but won’t debate in the Primary. Next he said he would debate, but not until things return to normal (read between the lines: he won’t debate in the Primary, but he will in the General Election). He’s just plain squirming.

Let Vermonters see that Governor Scott is 1) trying to use a pandemic to secure his personal reelection; and 2) his effort must not be permitted to succeed.

We were told that Vermont’s businesses were being shut down, and citizens restrained from movement, to “flatten the curve.” The curve is now flattened -- and the Governor says he can’t debate because of COVID-19? How could any leader be more disingenuous? The entire Legislature is convening via Zoom, the Democrats are having on-line debates, but the Governor is “just too busy” saving us from COVID-19 to explain his plans for an economic recovery.

How does this approach benefit Vermont’s election process? It doesn’t. How does it benefit GOP candidates for House or Senate seats? It doesn’t.

The Governor is too busy hiding behind COVID-19 to stump for other candidates. After all, he’s too busy to stump for himself (until the Primary is over!). When asked on June 1 “How hard would it be to debate your opponents on-line?” he responded “When this state of emergency, from my perspective, is over, I would be happy to debate.” He retains unilateral power to decide what is a state of emergency, and when it ends -- but did not answer the question about why he couldn’t debate during a state of emergency! Of course he can! Governor Scott has invested more energy resisting debates than actual debates would require!

But when it comes to mail-in voting, the Governor doesn’t want to be involved. (Presumably he’d prefer to kick the decision to municipalities, as with wearing masks). He told the Legislature he “didn’t ask to be put in this position” regarding mail-in voting. Yet, isn’t this his job?

As a solution to the mail-in voting issue, the Governor seeks to delegate authority to others so he can escape accountability for yet another failure to stand for Constitutional freedoms. He pleads to create a “panel of appointees” to decide whether to allow mail-in voting, arguing “That way we can think about what it means in an objective way, not having anyone involved in the election.”

Vermonters can already see the Constitution, and the importance of debates, “in an objective way.” Perhaps Governor Scott should apply his mamby-pamby response on mail-in voting to the issue of debates -- he can appoint a panel to decide whether he should debate me or not. Then it would be “objective,” and not hampered by someone involved in the election.

But don’t hold your breath, Vermonters. Phil Scott perceives that he holds all the political cards -- he has a mighty financial war chest, an incumbent bully pulpit, and a health crisis that he manipulates to avoid what should be a no-brainer -- vigorous and open debates. Debates threaten his dominance, with a call for accountability.

By refusing to debate in the Primary, Phil Scott seeks to refuse to be held accountable for his record -- his opposition to President Trump on numerous occasions; abandonment of gun rights; endorsement of abortions until birth; opposition to free speech principles; calling Vermont a racist culture and our legal system racist; vocal support for transgender surgeries for children at public expense; opposition to practical federal immigration laws; call for impeachment of Donald Trump without evidence; calls to legalize keno gambling to raise funds; his plan to pay $10,000 to out-of-staters.

Phil wants to avoid all these issues, while bailing on Vermonters in the mail-in voting battle, and patting himself on the back for violating our Constitution to save us from a disease. (That Constitutionality question -- notice he refuses to even address that one, no matter how often he’s asked!).

Before Vermonters can choose a Governor in 2020, perhaps they should first choose whether or not they want a political process with integrity -- whether they desire meaningful elections at all. Because if the media is biased, and the incumbent refuses to be challenged on the issues, then the democratic process in Vermont has already been subverted, right before our eyes.

If there are no debates, why bother to vote? If Phil Scott is just another self-serving politician who votes with progressives to retain his position, why bother to vote for him? What is the point of elections in America in 2020, if they are just a charade, like in backward foreign countries?

Phil Scott must not be allowed to hold all the cards and control Vermont’s elections. Voters must tell him that he can’t fix the game. Debates should be like the Vermont lottery -- you can’t win if you don’t play! He wants to win by refusing to participate. Let’s not let him control the American tradition of fair and open elections… especially not in Vermont!